WSHS grad is inventor of new musical instruments
Photo by Donald Swearingen
n Walter Kitundu, a 1991 graduate of Winona Senior High School, is a world-renowned creator of musical instruments who was recently awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
A Winona Senior High School graduate has been named to one of the most elite collections of creative minds in the world, receiving a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and a half million dollars for his efforts.
Walter Kitundu, a 1991 graduate of WSHS, had made a name for himself in recent years for innovative musical instruments the likes of which the world has never seen.
A unique blend of sound and visual artist, graphic designer, composer and instrument builder, Kitundu’s creations rely on wood, water, fire and even earthquakes to produce power and pitch. His performances often include visual displays that help to blur lines between live and recorded sound and reconnect new technology for music to fundamental principles found in the natural world.
Kitundu has performed extensively in California, where he also has earned a reputation for breathtaking bird photography, though not without a certain amount of inconvenience.
Kitundu made posters to hang around Pacific Heights after he was repeatedly approached by police who received calls about a suspicious man lurking in the bushes there. On the tongue-in-cheek poster, Kitundu includes a furtive-looking photo of himself and advises people that while he does stand still in the bushes for long periods of time, it is the birds, not the people there, that he is focusing his camera on.
Among his instruments is a family of Phonoharps, multi-stringed instruments made from record player turntables. Sculptural and beautiful, his creations have brought Kitundu fame in the world of music from Carnegie Hall to New Zealand to Iceland.
In fact, in the world of experimental music he has been referred to as a “superstar,” a designation clearly echoed by the selection committee for the MacArthur Fellows.
Since 1981, the foundation has awarded unrestricted fellowships to those deemed to have extraordinary dedication and originality in their creative pursuits. The work by Fellows candidates must show the promise of containing important future advances, and only about 25 are selected each year.
To be considered, Kitundu had to be nominated anonymously by an individual or organization invited by the foundation to suggest candidates for the award.
The fellowship is dispersed over a five-year term and is awarded with such respect and trust for the recipient that it comes with no strings attached.
Kitundu is the son of former Winona Clinic physician Peter Kitundu and Winona State University nursing professor Mary Ellen Kitundu.